Accordion Festival Nights

Reinventing the tradition of the tavern: artists from over 20 countries meet in Vienna to share their ideas and cultures

On The Town | Dragos Ungurean | March 2009

Otto Lechner performing at the Wiener Akkordeon Festival (Photo: Archiv Akkordeon Festival)

Now in its tenth year, the Accordion Festival has become a fixture on the late winter music scene in Vienna. The orgy of "squeezeboxes" begins mid February and continues at venues all over town until the middle of March, dates varying each year. Attending one of the shows on a recommended night can be considered a leap of faith for a first time listener.

The mellow yet often highly charged atmosphere is seductive and even hearing the sounds for the first time, you will most likely be enthralled for the duration of the show, calling it an evening well spent.

On the night in question, the crowd at the Jugendstiltheater on the Baumgartner Höhe in Ottakring had come to hear Otto Rechner, a name in the accordion world, joined by eight other accordionists from five different countries-- a Zieharmonishe Orchester, performing a medley of tunes from accordion traditions around the world. Blind since childhood, Rechner’s sound has a special sweetness: a sound inside the soul of a man who seems to hear more than others, who is able to listen in a special way.

The range of the accordion is vast and its voices numerous. However, the basic structure of the instrument is quite straightforward: a rectangular box with bellows to produce volume and range, keys like a keyboard, and another set of round buttons to accompany and hold rhythm. Theory, though, is much easier than practice and in this case, the instrument’s sound requires no accompaniment.

The ability to stand alone with no accompaniment was derived from the needs of the performers in taverns and streets during the early 19th century. The need was to be able to move about and entertain more people at the same time, with a piano mobility is cut off and with a violin it is less attractive compared to an accordion and its wide array of sounds.

Invented by Christian Buschmann in 1822, the instrument originates from Bavaria. The 19th century instrument has been in the forefront of many folk traditions, from France to Russia with Vienna in between.

As concert time approached, the crowd was impatient and the applause began even as the announcer made the introductions and the artists climbed on stage. They all carried their accordions in with them; a small battalion armed with their instruments and music the ammunition.

They took seats at a large table laden with cold cuts, carafes of water, wine and other foods. It is very personal music – an accordion is the original ‘one-man-band’ – that in small taverns, bars, and cafes and has ended up filling theaters. But the spirit of the tavern remains.

The spirit developed into a tangible feeling once the folk instrument of Austria began playing and solidifying its place as a tradition in Austrian Folk music.

In the next seat, Ilse was a regular having attended every one since its founding ten years before. "I am a huge fan of this music," she confided as the show started up.

Otto Lechner performed the first two songs with three other accordionists, and the music immediately had its contagious effect on the listeners. People sighed to the swelling chords; eyes closed swaying in their seats to the sweet sound of the quartet. Even in a group, Lechner’s sound stands out, darker, richer perhaps. "His accordion is older," Ilse told me, "and has a different pitch and tone."

The next few songs were done in combinations of the other artists, among whom, a very talented funky styled accordionist, Michael from Austria. Michael’s music was simply elegant and yet unrefined, with a unique sound that had him tapping the bellows like a drum and slamming wads of keys to create harsh sounds of chaos.

The passion flowed throughout the theater as the two musicians felt every note they played and devoted all their energy to hitting every note and moving the audience. Him and his partner played for twenty minutes, leaving listeners astonished. Even their colleagues at the table behind them were shaking their heads in appreciation.

The show moved on, energy sweeping all before it, gathering up the crowd into its dynamic sound. And when it was finally over, the stillness was tinged with regret. This is very physical music, and the hollow of silence a sense of physical loss -- leaving much to anticipate next year when the festival returns for the eleventh time.


Upcoming Shows at the Akkordeon Festival


Mar. 5, 20:00

Netnakisum feat. Christian Bakanic (AT)


14., Goldschlagstrasse 169

(01) 988 98 111


Mar. 7, 20:00

Mika Vember & Band (AT), 1. Teil

Rachelle Garniez & Matt Munisteri Baumgartner Casino

14., Linzer Straße 297

(01) 914 33 25


Mar. 10, 20:00

Akkosax (AT)

Vienna Balkan Trio (YU/BA/AT)

Ost Klub

4,. Schwindgasse 1

(01) 505 62 28


Mar. 12, 20:00

Klezmer Reloaded (UA/PL)

Daphna Sadeh & The Voyagers (IL/GB)

Theater Akzent

4., Theresianumgasse 18

(01) 501 65 33 06


Mar. 15, 20:00

Aufwind (DE)

Wiener Tschuschenkapelle (HR/MK/BG/Y/AT)

Baumgartener Casino

Theater Akzent

14., Linzerstrasse 297

(01) 914 33 25

Other articles from this issue

  • The Pope & The Guru

    Perhaps we’ll finally stop falling for the fairytale of infallibility
    Opinion | Dardis McNamee
  • Above the Clouds

    Simple pleasures are sometimes found in the strangest places
    On The Town | Christian Cummins
  • Hunters Go Dancing

    Under the spell of history and grandeur, Trachten and Dirndls spin like pinwheels at the the Jägerball at Vienna’s Hofburg
    On The Town | Marlies Dachler
  • Davos Man’s Depression

    The perpetrators acted like victims and the IMF still insisted on tight money
    Opinion | Joseph Stiglitz
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review March 2009